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Detroit students to get 50,000 laptops, free internet as part of $23 million investment

Coalition aims to bridge digital divide for Detroit students amid COVID-19 pandemic

DETROIT – A coalition of Detroit businesses and philanthropic organizations announced Thursday a plan to place a computer tablet with high-speed LTE internet connectivity, along with technical support, into the hands of every Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) K-12 student before the end of the school year.

  • Watch the news conference live above.

Related: How school shutdowns raise stakes of digital divide for students

The “Connected Futures” program -- backed by DTE Energy Foundation, Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD), Kellogg Foundation, Quicken Loans, the City of Detroit, General Motors and The Skillman Foundation -- is working to address a digital inequity within the city of Detroit, an issue they say has been exacerbated as students have been forced to learn from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. DPSCD estimates that 90% of the district’s students do not have access to a device and the Internet.

The plan is that the first six months of internet connectivity will be fully subsidized, during which time students will be transitioned to a low-cost, hard-wired connection.

“When our executive team began prioritizing COVID-19 relief efforts, the issue of digital inequity for Detroit students rose to the top,” said DTE Energy President and CEO Jerry Norcia. “We recognized that we needed to take action urgently to close the digital divide for these students and provide them with the tools necessary to thrive in the 21st Century. Today, the Detroit community commits to our children’s futures. It’s time for us to level the playing field for the students of Detroit.”

The majority of Detroit students have not been able to take advantage of online learning tools or connect with their teachers through video chat despite best efforts from the district, according to DPSCD.

“This has been part of our long-term plan for DPSCD for three years as we have invested in technology at schools, but these investments did not impact the lack of connectivity at home,” said Dr. Nikolai Vitti, DPSCD superintendent. “The ability for our students to access the educational platforms that they use during the school day from home will elevate their learning year-round, not just during this crisis. We know that our children perform exponentially better during the school year, but when they return in September, they’ve lost much of their progress from the prior school year. We are sincerely grateful to DTE for leading the charge on this initiative and for the many funders who have come forward to support our students.”

Organizers said the Connected Futures program was built with “sustainability and accountability at the forefront.” Both DPSCD and DTE have committed a project manager to this initiative. DPSCD, the City of Detroit, DTE, Quicken Loans and The Skillman Foundation have created a committee to oversee the initiative for the long-term – monitoring critical data points, discussing any issues that may arise and jointly problem solving, organizers said.

Related: Detroit teacher goes viral with nightly bedtime stories videos

"When we look back to this time in 10 years, we will see that this moment changed the trajectory of education in our city,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “We have risen to the challenge of this pandemic and found a way to forge something positive for our children. This will be a defining moment of pride in Detroit for many, many years.”


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